We can't blame the moral failures of today on someone else.
It's not Bush this time. It's not a prior generation betraying a trust. It's not another country failing to live to the standards of civilization. We're not even able to defend ourselves by saying we were ignorant of what was happening or by feigning that we were looking the other way.
This time, it's us. American liberals have the reins of U.S. foreign policy right now and we are embracing a course in which we are the ones who condone torture, turn our back on genocide, sidestep the rule of law. We operate Guantanamo and defend using extreme measures with terrorists. We ignore national sovereignty. We acknowledge the deaths of thousands upon thousands at the hands of weak, brutal regimes and we say, "not our problem" or "to intervene would be too hard." Then we go off and weep and some other movie of the Holocaust and walk out wondering how any generation could allow such a thing to happen. But we are demonstrating that evil exists in the world not because of the occasional rise of satanic bad men but because of the enduring willingness of average people tolerate what should be intolerable -- apathy has killed more people than Osama or Saddam ever did.
(And before all the "yes, buts...": It is too easy to say Obama is not "really" a liberal. He is in fact, the distilled essence of the liberal ideal in America over the past couple decades, the product of liberal movements, the liberal establishment, an espouser of liberal ideals, the most open and clearly liberal political candidate to be elected to high office in the United States since the middle of the last century -- more so than self-described "centrists" like Clinton, Carter or Kennedy. He may have checked his liberal ideals at the door of the White House situation room, but that's not a counter-argument, that's the point.)
All of us who embrace in any way any part of the idea of liberalism need to own up to the current situation, to remember our past righteous condemnations of others and to ask how we got here. We need to examine why we apply our values so sporadically -- if any beliefs that are so haphazard and so selectively applied can be called a values system at all.
Look at the story running in today's New York Times and elsewhere on the new U.N. report on torture in Afghanistan. Based on hundreds of interviews, the conclusion is that America's Afghan allies regularly employ torture against prisoners linked to that country's insurgency. According to the Times "It paints a devastating picture of abuse, citing evidence of ‘systematic torture' during interrogations by Afghan intelligence police officials even as American and other Western backers provide training and pay for nearly the entire budget of the Afghan ministries running the detention centers." It would be preposterous to suggest the United States, bankrolling these operations, did not know what was going on. It is clear that despite our vast military presence in Afghanistan, we did nothing to stop it. It is also, as it happens, illegal for the United States to provide aid to police organizations embracing torture but that little issue seems to have been set aside. That these governments we support also abuse their female citizens or institutionalize intolerance only compounds the wrong.
Or, alternatively, look at the discussions surrounding the decision by this administration to authorize the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen. CNN reported yesterday that U.S. may release its memo authorizing the decision to kill the terrorist leader. The objective is to demonstrate the legal basis for the attack which also killed another U.S. citizen. While Awlaki richly deserved to die, the question as to whether U.S. officials have the right to summarily order such an attack raises important ethical questions about the nature and conduct of modern warfare and the decision processes by which public officials arrogate onto themselves roles traditionally left to judges and juries.
Another dimension of the ethical issues raised in the Awlaki attack has to do with the broader question of drone warfare. Scott Shane's "Coming Soon: The Drone Arms Race" in the Sunday Times raised the specter of this issue growing and, as I have argued before, before it does, we ought to be having a vigorous discussion about why it is we think having the technology to violate the sovereignty of other nations with impunity grants us the right to do so. The implication of Shane's piece, of course, is that sooner rather than later, the shoe is going to be on the other foot. We will be targeted. Our officials may be cited as direct threats to some other nation ... perhaps even reasonably cited as such. And then what?
Further, as important as are the issues raised in such stories, equally important are the issues raised by the instances where there are few if any stories at all. We don't hear much about Guantanamo any more. We don't debate much those wars and social catastrophes in which we don't intervene despite the huge human costs. We are essentially silent about the moral consequences of postponing discussion on tolerating an economic system that promotes inequality, puts the weakest at risk due to the greed of the most powerful or threatens the planet's environment.
Some might call the approach America today embraces as realism. Others might say it is justified by circumstances. Both may be true and the tough hard realities of the world may be what directs all American presidents into the mainstream of compromise and pragmatism. But what it is also is frequently morally indifferent and occasionally indefensible.
We have to acknowledge that we have become that which we condemned. We have demonstrated through our actions that we too feel morality is just for speeches and or to be used as a cudgel with which to attack the opposition. And we have to ask, can there be such a thing a liberal U.S. foreign policy or is our national character so corrupted by a sense of self-righteous exceptionalism that there is no place in our policies for solid values consistently applied?
I'm feeling curiously optimistic this morning which has me thinking it may be time for a CAT scan.
But I can actually see a way that things don't turn out so bad for the world.
First, to deal with the wolf closest to the sled, the Europeans will have to get their act in order. While they have thus far resisted this tooth and nail, I've heard some modestly encouraging rumblings from folks in the center of the negotiations. I want to point out the people with whom I have been speaking are not terribly optimistic themselves. But they have offered a few crumbs of optimism for those of us who starved for it to scarf up.
First, in the words of one participant, European leaders have begun to work themselves through "the stages of grief associated with the crisis. First, even just a few weeks ago, they were purely in denial. Then, they entered a phase of denial in which it was clear they didn't even believe their own denials. Finally, last week we entered what might be called the ‘silly ideas' phase. And I am hopeful that means now we can get down to serious ideas."
What kind of ideas? Coming up with a program that takes a big chunk, perhaps $250 billion, of ESFS money and uses it as "equity" in funding a "firewall" that might then include a trillion or so capital available to the ECB in the event a big economy -- Italy or Spain -- stumbles. The plan would also need other elements such as Europe dealing with the structural issues associated with achieving something like monetary union and a recognition that no firewall can protect against all threats, especially those that could be associated with a fixation on austerity. Governments in Europe need to focus on getting growth restarted in places like Spain or Italy or bigger problems are inevitable. A final element of an effective plan would then include a significant recapitalization of the IMF which currently is not funded properly to deal with the new forms of risk and contagion which confront global markets.
At some point, banks will need to pay for the insurance policies they are expecting their governments to provide for them and whether that is done by a Tobin tax or some levy on non-deposit liabilities, grappling with that issue will be key to winning political support for further government involvement. And while countries and the IMF are at it, they ought to start to tally what sovereign exposures are to those "implied liabilities", their unwritten but real "obligation" to bail out the too big to fail institutions that are the nuclear charges set at the fault lines of the global economy.
That might in turn trigger a recognition that we will not be well and truly out of the woods of this crisis until we demand more transparency from these banks in terms of their liabilities (including counter-party risks in all manner of derivative transactions), regulations that enforce responsible provisions for dealing with those risks, and perhaps even globally agreed upon limits on the size and activities of such institutions.
But one step at a time. While the insiders with whom I spoke were only cautiously optimistic that progress might be made on putting together an interim solution-firewall for Europe -- or to be more accurate, while they did not outright dismiss the possibility -- they did emphasize that there was a long way to go, the Germans and the French were not playing nicely with each other, and there were deep cultural barriers to even having an intellectually honest conversation among the players about what ails them.
Still, since the focus is optimism, another encouraging sign were the glowing reports I have been hearing of the work that both new IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner having been doing trying to hammer some sense into Europe's fiscal policy pygmies. No, not pygmies ... lemmings. Well, blundering action-phobic bureaucrats. (The problem, according to a friend, is "lots of leaders, not enough leadership.") By one account, about a third of the progress made during the last few weeks is due to circumstance, the growing direness of the situation, and the rest is due to the compelling arguments and forceful interventions of Lagarde and Geithner.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Enough is enough. After remaining divided on this issue for too long, it is time to take a stand regardless of the political consequences.
It is time to join with those who have already had the courage to weather the inevitable criticism from a biased, bought, and paid for press corps that is part of the greater problem we face.
It is time to end the double standard that for far too long has guided and distorted America's policies in the Middle East.
You all know the story: For decades, special interest-driven ties have enabled a small lobby in Washington to embrace policies that have cost America dearly and today, increasingly put our national security and national prestige at risk. We have for too long supported Middle Eastern political leaders who themselves represent comparatively small populations with dubious historical claims on the land they control and extreme religious agendas. These so-called allies have not only implemented unfair policies that have earned criticism around the world, they have actually implemented apartheid-like segregation of the people they govern. Minority interlopers have unjustly appropriated power, held it by force, and often brutally oppressed majorities that deserve better.
While this is our policy for a subset of the Middle East, for others in the region we are much less accommodating. We are constantly haranguing them, criticizing, demanding that they achieve an ever-higher standard of behavior … even though their historical claims on the region are every bit as great as those we coddle, even though in many ways they have served America more reliably than those we prop up with our military aid, even though they are in many ways the source of the region's vitality and have the clearest vision as to how it might break out of the economic and political crises that torment it.
The cost of this double standard is painfully apparent today. Just look at the headlines. In Syria, all America can do is make earnest but impotent shows of solidarity with opposition leaders and search for new adjectives to add to our denunciations of the illegitimate Assad regime. But because of our double standard, because of the fact that we dare not call out the Arab nations we have supported for so long at such a high cost, because we can't count on them as our allies to do the right thing and add pressure on Assad to go, we are forced to treat this grave humanitarian crisis as though it were happening on the moon, far from any real ability of us to influence it.
Yes, the Syria crisis does, as is often noted, illustrate the greatest of the many follies associated with the frustrating saga of Western intervention in Libya. That is, of course, that by intervening in Libya ineffectively, we have now made it impossible for anyone to believe we will intervene anywhere else, even when, as in Syria's case, more credible threats of punishing Assad would have been helpful arrows to have in our quiver.
PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images
It is not the narrative we had hoped for. It is certainly not the story line that would have been most uplifting. It is not even the scenario that seems most consistent with the course of centuries of human progress. But it is one we have to consider because with every passing day, it does seem the direction events are now headed.
Judging from developments throughout the Middle East, it seems quite possible that the primary outcome of the "Arab Spring" may be the reinforcing of the power of the old guard.
In Egypt, recent reports such as David Kirkpatrick's in the New York Times this weekend suggest that the military is working tirelessly to retain its traditionally dominant behind-the-scenes role in that country's political life even after any further reforms are implemented. In addition, political candidates -- like former foreign minister Amr Moussa -- with close ties to Hosni Mubarak's regime may fare well in upcoming elections.
In Jordan, Yemen, and Tunisia, promises of reform have thus far outnumbered any substantial steps in that direction. (See, for a thoughtful analysis, my Carnegie colleague Marina Ottaway's "Tunisia: The Revolution Is Over, Can Reform Continue?")
In Syria, while Bashar al-Assad regime has been weakened by protests, even weaker has been the international response to its brutality. The regime could well survive. Perhaps more importantly vis-à-vis the region at large, take how it has thus far faired compared with toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, and the message to autocrats threatened in the future may be: strike hard, strike without mercy, the worst you will have to contend with from the rest of the planet is a flurry of diplomatic wrist-slaps. The fact that similar crackdowns in Iran and Bahrain were also effective only underscores the point.
In Bahrain, the formula is a little more pernicious. It suggests for regimes lucky enough to be located in the Gulf -- because of the oil, because of America's desire to contain Iran, because of old friendships -- you can get away with virtually anything. See today's article in the Independent titled "Poet jailed in protests claims she was beaten by Bahraini royal." It is a credible account of just one more ugly dimension of a protracted repressive episode that the United States and the rest of the world effectively chose to ignore … which in such cases is much the same thing as complicity.
KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images
The greater good is the bitch-goddess of foreign policy. It provides at once both the inspiration to elevate society and the temptation to debase it. I'm sure one of the reasons that the study of foreign policy draws in so many passive-aggressive poindexters is because they get a cheap thrill from entering a fraternity in which the only admissions requirement is checking your conscience at the door.
In the first international affairs class one attends or the first serious discussion of foreign policy in which one participates, sooner or later the focus turns to the tough choices that must be made in the name of the Shiva of Foggy Bottom.
It is easy to understand this impulse when one watches scenes as in Libya in which a corrupt despot seeks to maintain his illegitimate chokehold on a society through the slaughter of those who only seek the rights due all men and women. Using force and taking life to stop evil and to protect those who cannot defend themselves is certainly justifiable albeit fraught with moral complexities that we too often too easily set aside.
That said however, we have to acknowledge that the natural habitat of this particular bitch-goddess is the slipperiest of slopes. It is worth remembering that most of the world's greatest sins have been committed in the service of someone's definition of the greater good. It is a point the Obama administration ought to take to heart as recent headlines suggest that we are crossing to the wrong side of the world's most dangerous border, the one that divides "realism" from "evil."
Not surprisingly, no place illustrates this danger like the region we call AfPak. And as a consequence no place more emphatically shouts out the question: "Have we no decency? Are there no limits to what we are willing to accept in the pursuit of our allegedly high-minded goals?"
We accept Hamid Karzai and elements of the Pakistani government although we know them to be corrupt and very likely supporting or enabling our enemies. We do this despite the lesson being chanted in public squares across the Middle East -- not to mention most of the history of modern U.S. foreign policy -- is that this approach inevitably comes back to bite us in the most sensitive parts of our national interests. We are seen as the co-authors of the wrongs our chosen despots commit or tolerate because ... well, because we are. That we are doing this in Afghanistan even as we are seemingly preparing to embrace a bigger role for the Taliban in the government only compounds the wrong -- the only justification for supporting Karzai is that he is better than the alternative but we don't seem to think that's necessarily the case anymore. Whatever your view of the issue, you have to admit it's a treacherously morally ambiguous place to venture to reclaim the national standing the Obama team correctly feels the United States lost during the Bush years.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
They are still there in Tahrir Square. Not as many as before. The energy has ebbed away. The television cameras have long-since shifted their focus elsewhere. To the fighting in Libya. To the water cannons being used against protestors by the U.S.-backed government in Iraq.
But the protestors remain where Egypt's Jasmine Revolution made its great stand against Mubarak's thugs. They are still connected with the world via Twitter and Facebook. They are not yet ready to leave and in that there is an important lesson that may offer more hope than even the jubilation that seemed to emanate from the protestors to every corner of the world when Hosni the Dinosaur finally agreed to lumber out of town.
They understand that contrary to the generally accepted understanding of the term, revolutions do not happen quickly nor do they end when the initial battles associated with them cease. Revolutions unfold slowly. Successful revolutions inevitably take years, decades or sometimes longer. Revolutions do not just require courage they require tenacity and watchfulness.
In Tahrir Square, they are watching. They are there to hold the Egyptian provisional government to their word. They were there this week to demand that Ahmed Shafiq, a Mubarak hold-over, resign. If he did not, they would call their brethren back to the square. Shafiq and the leaders of the military who have been entrusted with the transition understood what that meant. For the protestors, it was another step forward but it was still an early one in what they know will be a long journey.
Even should democracy arrive later this year, they know that is not enough. From Mubarak to free and fair elections is great progress, a kind of political miracle, but it is not what the revolution was about. The revolution was about what happens between elections, what leads from election to election, about a culture of transparency, fairness and opportunity. It is about being a democratic society which is very different from sporting a few of the accoutrements of democratic behavior ... like elections.
They don't have to look too far to see that elections alone do not a functioning democratic society make. They can look to Iraq, where despite elections cronyism, corruption, and ethnic and social divisions still rule. They see a country in which the United States spent billions of dollars and thousands of lives to defeat a despot and install democracy with its people in the street, demanding change, confronted by "security forces in black uniforms, track-suits and T-shirts" who, according to the Washington Post, "attacked protesters, rounded up others from cafes and homes and hauled them off, blindfolded to army detention centers."
The Post story quoted a human rights activist as saying, "Maliki is starting to act like Saddam Hussein, to use the same fear, to plant it inside Iraqis who criticize him. ... The U.S. must feel embarrassed right now -- it is they who promised a modern state, a democratic state."
While they may not know that Merriam-Webster defines revolution as "a sudden, radical or complete change" they understand that "sudden" and even "radical" are not enough. "Complete" is the operative word and that takes time and vigilance and the spirit of a marathon runner as opposed to a sprinter.
It's why, despite the fact that few of them may ever have heard of Benjamin Franklin, they seem to understand what he meant when, asked about what was being produced by America's revolution and the subsequent drafting of its constitution, he said, "a republic, if we can keep it."
John Moore/Getty Images
When I read the Washington Post's story "Palestinians Seek Recognition through South America" this morning, all I could think of was Sarah Palin. Now, some might think that is a kind of a disorder that calls for therapy more than it does another blog post. But I suspect you are probably jumping to the wrong conclusion about what I think about either issue.
In defense of my mental health (which needs all the defending it can get), one reason I thought of Palin was that as I was reading the article, she appeared on the television. She was being asked what she thought about birther claims that President Obama was not born in the United States. Without the hesitation or weasel words that have made recent statements on this subject by Michele Bachmann and John Boehner such indictments of their ability to lead, Palin said that it wasn't an issue for her and that we ought to be talking about how to fix the economy. In this instance, she got it precisely right.
But the Palin comment and the birther debate also resonated with the story of the eight Latin American governments that in December and January recognized Palestinian statehood. representatives of the Netanyahu government including the prime minister himself apparently vigorously tried to persuade the region's leaders not to join the almost 100 nations that have also acknowledged the legitimacy of the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people.
Once again, the issue seems like a distraction to me. The response of Israel ought to be like the response of Palin, "Of course, the Palestinian people have a right to a state." In fact, it's only a bit of an over-simplification to say, the right response ought to be literally what Palin's was: That it's not an issue for them and we ought to be talking about how to fix the economy -- that is we ought to be focused on how you go from the indisputable right of the Palestinians to have their own state to working together to create one that is self-sustaining and can do a better job creating opportunities for the Palestinian people than neighboring states (other than Israel) have done for their citizens. That's the critical challenge for both Israelis and Palestinians together.
That of course, also requires that the Palestinian leadership actually get serious about both negotiating a deal and providing fundamental services to the Palestinian people. An honest debate about this subject, stripped of the distractions upon which both sides have depended on as cover for so long, would turn more to such practical issues.
GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images
The problem with experience is that it doesn't prepare you for what you have never seen before. This is also a challenge for experts, for whom their knowledge of the past is usually an advantage, but sometimes can be their worst limitation.
This has certainly been the case in the past several weeks with the events in Tunisia and Egypt. Old Middle East hands approached the matter with great caution, fearing instability, because if it followed past patterns, it would most likely end in unhappiness. The most likely outcomes they could foresee were either: the further cementing of the status quo or an invitation to something much worse.
History taught them that popular uprisings in the region typically led either to replacing one despot with another or perhaps to trading the evils of autocracy for the evils of theocracy.
And we would do well to consider the fact that even now, as Egypt is awash in euphoria, that the experts may be right. And they would do well to consider that perhaps what has happened in Egypt is something entirely new.
MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images
President Hosni Mubarak's speech to the Egyptian people in the wake of days of rioting was a masterpiece of insensitivity. With his citizens in the street expressing their needs, he addressed his own. He spoke of poverty and concern for his people, but his message was something far darker. He was making a stand for the status quo.
Watching him, ghostly in the stark podium lighting designed to hide what hints of his age his hairdresser and doctors could not, it was clear that this was an old man comfortable in the old ways of the Middle East. As such he was as much a remnant of Egypt's past leadership as any mummy in the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities in Cairo, just as brittle, frail, and ready to turn to dust.
His sacrifice of his cabinet also evoked ancient practices, as well as the last ditch measures of autocrats throughout history. His ministers -- many of whom were not objects of the people's anger -- were used as cannon fodder, a way to test whether the old president's position would hold. The hours and days ahead will determine whether it was enough: whether there are real reforms he might actually entrust his new government with or whether he is betting that his lifelong ties to the military will protect him in ways that his political savvy no longer can.
He is a man out of touch with his people and his times. Like Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, he is a symptom of the greatest problem the region has faced over the past several decades: its self-absorbed, corrupt leadership. From Algiers to Kabul, an arc of autocracy extends across nearly all of the greater Middle East, denying citizens the right of self-determination, buying international favor with oil or political deals, ignoring educational needs, the rights of women, and the investments needed to compete in the global economy.
But with each starkly out-of-touch pronouncement like that from Mubarak today, the arc trembles a bit. Certainly, the fall of Ben Ali started it quivering. In Yemen and in Jordan, demonstrators tested the waters to see if progress might be made there. We have already seen the potency of the Green Revolution in Iran and recognize that even when the autocrats seem to win the day, they only postpone the inevitable. You can't keep the cell phones and the Internet and Twitter accounts off indefinitely and compete in the modern world. You can't deny a future to populations dominated by the young and expect enduring stability.
In Israel, leaders are deeply ambivalent, fearful of instability in a country that has been vitally important to the region's stability -- and even more fearful that what they perceive as an even weaker, minority regime in Jordan might totter. At the same time, on some level they cannot help but note that not only do these uprisings underscore their nearly unique role as a democracy in the region (we will see what reform in Iraq brings) but even more importantly, they illustrate clearly that Israel is far from the biggest problem the region faces.
It is tempting for "realists" everywhere to cling to stability over the questions that opening these countries to self-determination might raise. But we should all have long since passed that point of hesitation. Either we are for the principle or we are not. Either all people deserve these freedoms or they do not. Someday historians may draw a direct connection between President Barack Obama's call for reforms and a new relationship between the United States and the people of the Islamic world in his Cairo speech and the events of this winter. We can only hope that it is connection marked by U.S. actions that are consistent with the high ideals espoused by the president.
In the words of Secretary Clinton today, we have hope that will be the case. In the "Made in the U.S.A." marking on the tear gas canisters being used against the Egyptian protestors we see the potential ugliness that can come from that old-fashioned form of flawed pragmatism that is a hallmark of US foreign policy -- the form in which we make a deal for today's stability that puts us on the wrong side of tomorrow's revolution.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Update, 9/12/10: In the following post due to a mistake regarding which draft I submitted to be posted, a couple of key words were dropped that have been noted by several commenters. They refer to the paragraph regarding the mosque project in Lower Manhattan. What I intended to write (and had actually written in the draft that I mistakenly did not submit) was not "It is odious..." but instead "It may seem odious to some, but if our freedoms..." I appreciate those who noted the incongruity of the remark given that I was early and strongly on the record supporting the right of those supporting the Islamic Cultural Center to build it wherever they wanted to. As should be clear to anyone who reads this blog, I find the objections and efforts to block the cultural center to be what is really odious and that is the point that I would have made here were it not for my typo. Apologies.
A week ago, Fareed Zakaria wrote a piece for Newsweek entitled "What America Has Lost." It was subtitled "It's clear we overreacted to 9/11." As is typical for Zakaria, it is exceptionally thoughtful and well-argued. Its timely focus is on the enormous costs associated with building up the massive U.S. security apparatus that targeted a terrorist threat that was and is clearly overstated. Zakaria makes reference to the landmark Washington Post "Top Secret America" series that outlined how, in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks, the United States has "created or reconfigured at least 263 organizations to tackle some aspect of the war on terror. The amount of money spent on intelligence has risen by 250 percent to $75 billion (and that's the public number, which is a gross underestimate.) That's more than the rest of the world spends put together."
Even today, nine years after 9/11, it took considerable courage for Zakaria to argue that we overreacted to the horrific events of that day. Given their scope and visceral impact on every American, it seemed in the days after the blows were struck that overreaction was impossible. But in the years that followed, the feelings seem hardly to have ebbed at all, and critiques of our national reaction are, with the exception of the near consensus that invading Iraq was wrong, considered almost unpatriotic -- nearly sacrilegious, in fact.
Yet I believe that Zakaria's column understates the problem. I attribute this to its appropriately limited focus rather than any narrowness of his perspective. It was, after all, just a single column in which he focused on making an important point about America's security priorities and the opportunity costs associated with our strategic overreaction. That said, the damage done by letting emotion and adrenaline get the best of us in the months and years after the attacks extends far beyond the distortion of foreign policy priorities or the impact on the U.S. federal budget.
Mario Tama/Gettty Images
I am beginning to think that John Edwards, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Octomom, and Jon Gosselin have joined together to form their own public relations firm ... and that their first client is the Vatican. I have come to this conclusion because it is impossible for me to imagine any other group of people giving the Holy See the kind of P.R. advice they seem to be getting.
The evidence came in yesterday's extraordinary statement from the Vatican "defending" themselves against attacks that they have not done enough to combat sexual abuse by priests. Rather than contritely focusing on all they have done to address this cancer on their credibility, they offered a response that will be studied in schools for years to come, whether in classes seeking to offer a lesson in how not to handle a crisis or in those offering an advanced degree in miscalculated chutzpah.
Following a meeting with the U.N. Human Rights Council meant to address concerns that the Church was failing to respond appropriately to a long history of members of the clergy abusing their flocks, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi read a statement that was undoubtedly considered by some spin doctor-equivalent somewhere to advance their case but which actually probably amounted to more convincing proof that the Vatican doesn't get it on this issue than anything discussed behind closed doors with the United Nations.Among their points:
The statement said that rather than paedophilia, it would "be more correct" to speak of ephebophilia, a homosexual attraction to adolescent males.
Of all priests involved in the abuses, 80 to 90% belong to this sexual orientation minority which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 17."
Aha. Well, I don't know about you, but now I feel much better about things. Most of the 6,000-20,000 priests who are abusing children at a rate somewhat lower than that of other religious groups are doing it with somewhat older kids. That puts things in a whole different light! I'm sure the whole ephebophilia defense will have altar boy enrollments skyrocketing in no time at all.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Vatican's response neither satisfied the man accusing it of covering up sex abuse within the Church nor did it sit very well with representatives of other religions. Keith Porteous Wood, of the NGO that charged the Catholic Church with violating several provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, said not enough had been done by the Church to address its internal problems or to open its records to permit civil prosecution of wrong-doers.
Protestant and Jewish representatives were quick to respond condemning the Church's attempt to spread around the blame and defending their own approaches to the problem.
Had these other religious groups asked my advice, I might have told them to simply remain silent and let the Archbishop Tomasi have the limelight and the microphone all to himself. It is hard to imagine what the Church could possibly do to look worse than it already did in the face of a global scandal that has cost it $2 billion in settlements in the United States alone. Hard to imagine ... and yet somehow, that's precisely what it did.
CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images
Attention blogosphere: By attacking Hormats, you're going after the wrong man.
Once again, it's time to slow down the blogosphere and wait for the facts to catch up to another story. (I'm starting to conclude that despite all the technical evidence to the contrary, the Internet actually runs on hormones rather than electrons.)
This time the story is about the nomination of Goldman Sachs International Vice Chairman Robert Hormats to be Under Secretary of State for Economic, Agricultural and Energy Affairs and the allegation by several small advocacy groups that he is somehow tainted by some brief comments he made about a Goldman deal that pumped cash into a division of a Chinese company whose parent organization had some ties to bad guys in the Sudan.
The problem is that in going after Hormats, they are likely going after one of the people most likely to be an effective ally for the alleged goal of these groups to further constrain any sort of private funding that might support genocide anywhere in the world.
Now as any reader of this blog knows, I am no fan of the oversized role Goldman Sachs has come to play in shaping economic policy in America. I am on the record as saying that far too many senior Goldman executives have played top roles in the United States government. I am also deeply concerned at the lack of progress the world has made to contain genocide or threats of future genocides. To me, it should -- along with combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- be a top priority of the entire international security community.
What readers of this brief post should also know is that I have known Bob Hormats for many years and that while we probably should be entering a phase in which we bend over backwards to dial down the number of Goldman appointments, this is certainly a case where an exception is warranted. I'd go further, it is a case where an exception should be actively sought.
Let's frame the question in the words of one of the appointment's critics, journalist Matt Taibbi who wrote the scorching Rolling Stone attack on Goldman that I recommended to readers very recently. He writes:
"You've got to fill a key post at State, and you can't find someone who isn't a former Goldman banker with a controversial human-rights profile? There are an awful lot of people on the earth; why this clown?"
Well, let's take his questions one at a time. First, he suggests Hormats has a controversial human-rights profile. his is clearly a reference to the current dust up in which several small groups including the Genocide Intervention Network, Investors Against Genocide and the Public Accountability Initiative all suggest that Hormats is at fault because in 2000 he made two on the record statements asserting that precautions had been taken in an upcoming PetroChina financing to ensure funds did not go to its parent company CNPC which had dealings in Sudan.
Here's what Hormats said to the Wall Street Journal at the time: "Sudan should not be an issue because of extensive legal firewalls in place to ensure that IPO proceeds are used domestically in China." But later the SEC fined Goldman $2 million for a number of minor securities law violations suggesting they had improperly promoted PetroChina stock including a reference to statements from an unnamed executive who might be Hormats that the SEC felt might have prematurely promoted interest in the stock. The statements in question were allegedly those made to the Journal and to the Washington Post by Hormats concerning the firewalls between PetroChina and CNPC.
As a result of the above and invoking the horrors in Darfur throughout, these advocacy groups have determined that Hormats nomination should be called into question. At least, they suggest, when he comes before the Senate in early September, he should face tough questioning on his views on these issues. I say, by all means question him, because I think this is what they will find:
1. Hormats statements to the press in 2000 were, as such statements always are (and as the SEC acknowledged they were) simply lawyer language provided to Hormats by Goldman attorneys. He was saying what the firm requested him to say. And furthermore, he was not only articulating what the firm saw as the truth but he was reflecting efforts by Goldman to try to keep proceeds of the financing away from operations of CNPC that might impact Sudan. Finally the IPO was, to my knowledge, structured in strict compliance with U.S. sanctions law at the time of filing.
2. That despite the implications in almost all the releases that what Goldman did is somehow connected to Darfur, the financing was in 2000 and the genocide in Darfur did not start until 2003.
3. That Hormats involvement in the deal beyond the statements he was requested to make was virtually nil.
Of course, what they will also find is that Hormats is, sorry Matt Taibi, no clown. First, he probably has one of the most exceptional records of public service of any nominee to high office in this administration. He has served in four different prior administrations for both parties. He has served as both Deputy United States Trade Representative (under Jimmy Carter) and as Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs.
He has managed international economic issues on the National Security Council. He has also got a long background of work on Africa and I know him to be highly sensitive to the issues of the sort raised by these advocacy groups. (He spent a year working on development issues in Kenya and Tanzania.) I have known him over 20 years and I can say also that he is undoubtedly one of the most decent (not to mention intelligent and capable) guys I have ever met in any line of work.
I'm all for going after half-baked appointments of money guys. I do it all the time. But this is actually one of the good guys. My guess is that he would give these genocide groups one of their best advocates in the administration... and that working with an administration with real sensitivities in this area, they could significantly enhance safeguards against all forms of support of genocide.
But there is an easy way to find out. They should ask him during the hearings. And if his answers are as his life's work suggests they will be, they should recognize the wisdom behind this particular nomination and support it without reservation.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Millions of you turn to this blog site every day because you feel I will offer you insights that will help you make sense of the world. I know this. It's a humbling responsibility. And frankly, the enormity of it forces me to offer a confession. Today I reviewed the morning papers as I usually do (online, sans paper) and watched the early broadcasts of TV news organizations and I have got to admit it, I find everything pretty confusing.
David McNew/Getty Images
From May 4th through the 6th 1989, the Asian Development Bank held its 22d Annual Meeting at the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel in Beijing. Just over two weeks earlier, on April 15, former Communist Party Secretary General Hu Yaobang died of a heart attack. He had been a symbol to reformers in China who had appreciated his willingness to challenge the party old guard and his courageous calls for rapid change. When, in the wake of student protests in 1986 and 1987, he was made a scapegoat by party hardliners and forced to resign, he became an icon of a democracy movement that sometimes appeared dormant in China but periodically, and fairly persistently, would produce energetic protests both large and small.
For these reasons, within hours of Hu's death, students began to gather in Tiananmen Square. A few days later, as the size of the crowds grew, I arrived in Beijing with my colleagues for the Asian Development Bank meeting. My company published daily newspapers at all the meetings of the world's development banks and were scheduled to be in Beijing for several weeks, a band of 20 or so writers, editors, photographers, and designers. Most of us were in our 20s. I was the grey-beard at 33.
Our own venture was on the cutting edge of what new technologies were making possible. Thanks to our ability to scrape together a substantial percentage of the few Macintosh computers available for rent in the Chinese capital, we were able to parachute in a newspaper team and put out a full-fledged English language daily with a circulation of several thousand, distributed each morning to 30 or 40 hotels throughout Beijing. Of course, we needed the government's assistance and our local partner became the Xinhua News Agency. We were given space in the cramped, rather dreary offices of China Daily, the main official English language paper in China. And we printed at what was then the country's largest economic daily, regularly referred to by our hosts as the Chinese equivalent of the Wall Street Journal. While our sponsors provided us with great latitude, they did read the paper before it was printed, never seeking to censor but on one or two occasions suggesting we refer to Taiwan as Taipei, China. It stuck in the craw but seemed small price to pay, especially given the freedom we had which seemed pretty remarkable at the time.
When we started work, we viewed the demonstrations in Tiananmen as interesting, a source perhaps of local color and traffic congestion. By the time we left, we viewed them as extraordinarily important and our interaction with the student leaders and frankly with every Chinese person who came in contact with them as not less than life-changing. Today, we look back on the June 4th crackdown that brought an end to the protests and death to thousands (credible estimates range from a few hundred to perhaps 3,000) as the defining moment of six weeks of protests. But 20 years later, I am left with something else, my enduring sense of the energy and even the joy surrounding the protests in the weeks leading up to their tragic end. It was unlike anything I have seen before or since and it infused everyone from the young protestors to the grizzled old Chinese communist party hands who we worked with regularly in our offices at China Daily.
There is no room here for a lengthy memoir. Pity too, because it would be an entertaining one full of stories of getting lost in the hutongs (back alleys) of Beijing, marveling at the lines of people outside the Kentucky Fried Chicken, lamenting the absence of good Chinese take-out food (there were clearly not enough Jews in China to ensure that industry would flourish to American standards), surviving on jars of peanut butter late in to the night, negotiating logistically challenging hole-in-the-floor rest room facilities, meeting warm, fascinating people, seeing remarkable sights, and getting the clear sense that there in 1989, somehow, we were getting a sneak preview of the forces that would ultimately drive the 21st Century.
Nonetheless, I simply wanted to take a moment to mark the 20th anniversary of the brutality in Tiananmen with a word or two about what led those protestors who died to show up in the first place, to put themselves at risk because they were in fact, putting the entire Chinese political structure at risk. And for me, the essence of that is captured in a conversation I had with a fairly senior guy at China Daily, a longtime party member, as he left the office one day to go and view the growing throngs outside the gates of the Forbidden City. "Are you going to report?" I asked. "No," he said, smiling, "I am going to join in. All my friends are...reporters, editors, old Party members, pretty senior government people. I was there yesterday. They were all there too. It is like a celebration, a parade."
Talking to him at greater length and then talking to others at the time from all walks of life in China including the most prominent of the protest leaders, like Wuer Kaixi and Wang Dan, the impression one had at the height of the Tiananmen euphoria was of a society in which everyone had the same secret and somehow it became acceptable to share it and all were relieved and excited to discover what they shared. The famous "Statue of Liberty" and flags and other decorations went up. There was a sense that major change, progress toward democracy, was imminent.
Of course, the power of the moment and the enormous social energy behind it unsettled those in the leadership who were steeped in a Chinese political philosophy where it is stability rather than any ideology that is prized above all else. The constant enemy was and remains the possibility of unrest leading to conflict or worse, anarchy...which is the core risk in a nation as full of complex countervailing forces as China. The result was the massacre.
But the spirit of the six weeks leading up the crackdown has not, in my estimation, died even though recent press reports show the youth of China see the 1989 uprising as remote, its memory faded. China, of course, has grown at a stunning pace in the past 20 years, ascending economically and in international political clout in ways that would have then been unimaginable. Whether this would have happened as fast had democratic reform come sooner is a useless, abstract debate. What is clear is that thanks to the economic growth in the country and concurrent revolutions in information technology, individual Chinese are better informed. Further, thanks to the rise of the country's private sector, its growing integration with the global economy and the personal growth of the average citizen, the Chinese people are today part of a rapidly changing political fabric. Whether that fabric must be rent in order to fulfill the dreams that were articulated by those students in that square two decades ago is unclear. But what is absolutely certain is that during the intervening years, that shared secret has not died. In fact, it is no longer a very well kept secret. But because it is so widely shared, it remains one that is so powerful that it is almost certainly of greater significance to China's future than it is to its past.
GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images
If you are looking for a unifying theme to describe the overarching policies of the Obama administration, you will find it coming from the least likely source: Hillary Clinton's State Department. I don't say the source is unlikely because HRC is doing a bad job. She's actually done very well. It's just an unlikely source because for reasons that have to be more than an accident, the department itself seems to have become the equivalent of Dick Cheney's undisclosed location. It, and particularly the Secretary, is off the radar. Everyone in DC these days is talking about how she hasn't appeared on a morning show. The Hill had a piece the other day on "The Incredible Shrinking Clintons." Richard Holbrooke has a much higher profile than his boss. Certainly, Bob Gates has had a higher profile and even the nearly invisible Jim Jones has gotten more press recently if only because of the leaked articles about some of his early (and I believe overstated) missteps.
Anyway, the theme and the metaphor that ties so much of what has been going on is "hitting the reset button," made famous when just such a button was delivered, mislabeled, by the state department to the Russians who were the first focus of what has become reset-mania. In addition to attempting to restart that relationship with our former arch-enemies, you can see evidence of the same mentality everywhere. We are attempting to hit the reset button for GM and Chrysler by pushing them through the bankruptcy process (the same one we spent tens of billions to avoid months earlier).
Today President Obama heads to the Middle East to hit the reset button on our relations with the Muslim World. Problems in Iraq and AfPak? Hit reset. Frayed alliances? Reset. Economy in the tank, Wall Street a mess? To many observers the impulse has been less toward sweeping reform and more toward getting things back to the way they were (with modest changes). In other words: reset. Demonstrating that no issue is too marginal or too antiquated for the focus on resetting, you need look only 90 miles away to Cuba. We even seem to be approaching health care by trying to hit the reset button to take the debate back to the days before the Clinton health care plan cratered and set health care reform back for more than 15 years.
Of course, the impulse to hit the reset button is pretty natural given the toxic nature of many Bush-era policies. And the reset button metaphor works for all of us in the information age and is undoubtedly better than suggesting that we cleanse ourselves of all the Bush dirt and toxins by climbing into the shower together.
But as any computer user knows, hitting reset doesn't work all the time. It's kind of magical when it does...to the extent that it seems inexplicable to most of us. But it would be a big mistake to make too much policy based on the notion that President Obama has -- to mix metaphors slightly -- the equivalent of the Fonzie touch, the ability to make a jukebox (or Bushed-up policy or relationship) work with a slap to its side. (I don't think it's mixing metaphors that much. The Fonzie touch is the '50s equivalent of the reset button.)
But here's the problem: if your computer is broken, the motherboard is fried, the demon viruses are at work on your data -- the reset button doesn't work. Same is true with broken companies, broken relationships, and broken global economies. Sometimes you may get signs that things are spluttering back to life but without real, material changes the problems will re-emerge. Sometimes you will get nothing at all.
In this respect, going to the Middle East to "restore relations with the Muslim world" sounds great in the reset context...Obama certainly achieves the main goal (and to some extent the primary deliverable) of Resetism, he demonstrates he is not George W. Bush. But it is unlikely to do much to actually fix the problem. It may help, to be sure. But many of the biggest problems that we have with regard to the Muslim world aren't actually problems we created or exacerbated. Neither Saudi Arabia nor Egypt, the President's two regional destinations, are anything like democracies...or for that matter are they home to anything like enlightened governments. Economic mismanagement and corruption are chronic and widespread and a bigger source of regional instability than many other issues that achieve more prominence. They are home to human rights violations, abominable treatment of women and tolerance of radical factions who are as big a threat to the Arab world as they are to the U.S. or any of our allies. These places are breeding grounds for risk to our interests and even doing the right thing and underscoring that the U.S. embraces Islam and all peace-loving Muslims, doesn't get down to the hard business of resolving tensions between the Arab and Persian worlds, the Sunnis and the Shiites, radicals and moderates, reformers and authoritarian rules or Arabs and Israelis.
Further, we need to remind ourselves that we are not the primary cause of the problems we face. We may have exacerbated some. There is no defense for Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, or for the hundreds of thousands of innocents who died thanks to our invasion of Iraq. But neither is there any defense for 9/11, terrorism directed at anyone, or state-supported hate mongering. Our support for Israel may inflame the Arab world but even when we acknowledge Israeli policy failures or brutality, even when we condemn them and work against them, we are only addressing part of the problem.
As a consequence as President Obama wings off to the region, it heightens my sense that there is as at least as much reason for the leaders of the Muslim world to come to America to restore relations with us, to make amends and commit to change, as there is for the President to go there and do so. Indeed, there is much more given the level of dysfunctionality within their societies and their long record of miserable treatment of their own people.
Similarly, the reset button won't fix GM or Chrysler. Admittedly, doing what we should have done six months ago, letting the companies go into bankruptcy and be stripped down to more efficient pieces will help. But U.S. ownership certainly will not (and has not...save for all that writing of big checks.) Merging with Fiat probably won't either. I think the odds are pretty high that we will look at the U.S. monies spent on the auto industry as the most expensive golden parachute in history, designed to make the demise of failed companies as painless as possible and not really terrible effective at identifying, preserving or fostering value within either of them. There is a reset hope in all this -- strip 'em down and let them regrow like a backyard shrub-but without creativity and truly new thinking, neither of which will come from the government or the labor unions who have gained too much sway in all this given their roles in creating the problem, these efforts will likely be frustratingly costly and unsuccessful.
The list goes on. If there were core problems associated with the creation of new invisible unregulated risks in the global financial systems, even restoring growth to markets and the U.S. economy is not a fix. The risks will remain until addressed. To restore US-Russia relations really requires a fix in Russia and not here. To restore U.S.-Cuba relations to their rightful place in our foreign policy, we need to transfer it to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State responsible for the Caribbean, normalize, and start treating like we should in much the same way we handle Jamaica or Trinidad and Tobago. In short, to achieve the ambitious goals the Obama administration has set and the American people seek, we need to rethink, reinvent and remember where the real problems lie...and not just hope that the world is as easily rebooted as our PCs.
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
What with this being Memorial Day weekend and all the talk turning to grilling...and what with the fact that when talk in DC turns to grilling we mean "enhanced interrogation techniques"...I thought it might be entertaining to put together a list of the 10 people we would most like to see this weekend (or sometime soon) on the grill, the waterboard, under the hot lights answering the questions we need answers to. And by answering, I don't mean the kind of answers you get on "Meet the Press." I mean the truth.
So here they are, 10 people who I'd like to leave alone in a room with Dick Cheney, a car battery, and jumper cables:
10. Alvaro Colom...
My question for the president of Guatemala would be "How did you feel the first time you saw the video-taped murder accusation leveled at you by (now deceased) attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg Marzano?" Of course, given the web of accusations, counter-accusations, and dubious assertions surrounding this murder, another question that comes to mind is: "Did you do it?" And another is: "How much longer do you think you have in office if Guatemala descends into the kind of civil discord that has marked much of its modern history?"
9. Robert Mugabe...
Frankly, I don't really feel the need to have a good question, here. This is a guy who seriously could use a date with a Delco just because he's one of the vilest, most corrupt leaders on the planet. That said, because we like our enhanced interrogations to be productive around here, how about, just as an appetizer: "How could you possibly continue to support the appointment of Gideon Gono as Reserve Bank Governor given that he has single handedly achieved the impossible and made the Zimbabwean currency famous worldwide...as a laughingstock...while making hyperinflation a national tragedy for your country?"
8. Nancy Pelosi...
Ah sweet irony. The questions are easy here: "The truth now, what did you know, when did you know it...and most importantly, why didn't you do anything about it once you knew?" But just to add to the fun, maybe we could let Pelosi nemesis, erstwhile CIA Director-candidate Jane Harman, oversee the questioning.
7. Joe Biden...
This entry was suggested by an anonymous email from the address email@example.com. The reason it was picked was that in an inventive twist, it was suggested by this mysterious Mr. O that Biden only feel the heat from the alligator clips attached to his nipples if he actually attempted to answer the questions posed to him. Or speak. Or pretty much make any sound at all.
6. Brad Grey...
Mr. Grey is the CEO of Paramount Pictures. And my question for him is perhaps the simplest of all those posed here. Why, why, why would you ever greenlight a picture featuring the Wayans Brothers like this weekend's Dance Flick?" As amusing as a slideshow from Abu Ghraib, the last time these guys were funny...any of them...was in utero.
The list goes on here at number 5. This is a category where the question is the same and you can use it with any of a large number of people who need to provide us with an answer to that age old query: "What do you see in him?" The question can be modified, of course. So it can be, "Carla, what do you see in that little megalomaniac?" Or it can be, "Kate, what do you see in that preening steroidal late-season-choke-machine? Are you actually trying to kill Owen Wilson by dating this lug?" (And please be wary, Kate. When October comes, those big strong arms of A-Rod's turn to spaghetti. But who knows, the steroids may have produced the same effect elsewhere long before then.)
4. Hank Paulson...
What I want to ask is, "Hank, I know you are a sensitive, self-aware guy. You're even a bird-watcher for goodness, sake. So tell me, in your heart of hearts, what were you really thinking when you decided to pull the plug on Lehman? Did it make you feel good even a teensy-weensy bit? No, really, not even a little bit?
3. Bibi Netanyahu...
The question is "when?" You don't have to tell Barack, no matter what he says. But I want to know. Just in case things backfire. You know, so I can buy up what might become a few choice oceanfront lots in say, Amman, Jordan.
2. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad...
You didn't think I would make Bibi sweat under the hot lights and not you, did you? But here's the question: "How stupid do you think we are?" No, I know how stupid you think the officials of the international community are and frankly, I hardly blame you. If I were you and I could keep stalling for more time to advance my nuclear programs, all the while making belligerent noises and testing missiles, I'd do it too. But the question is: "Do you really think everyone is stupid enough to trust you with nukes? Everyone?"
1. Dick Cheney...
It wouldn't be Memorial Day without an All-American Hero at number one. And what a hero you are, Dick. You didn't flinch expending American blood to advance your far-fetched fantasies. And for that reason and hundreds of thousands of others, no one is a more appropriate main entrée on our grilling menu. Of course, you can't fry yourself...so we'll have to find volunteers. (That shouldn't be too hard.) The bad news is that the questions we'd like to ask may be a little uncomfortable. Like: "Did you or the president specifically ok individual instances of torture?" and "Did you knowingly lie to Congress or the American people to justify the invasion of Iraq?" But there's good news too, because as we understand it, you've never met a defibrillator you didn't like.
So that's 10. Eleven actually. And I resisted throwing in the American Idol judges because I realized I didn't want to interrogate them. I just wanted to torture them...just as they have tortured us with that show's bland caterwauling for the past eight years. But feel free to nominate your own victims...er, honorees...or to pose additional questions for the wonderful folks above. And have a great Memorial Day.
Evan Agostini/Getty Images
David Broder today writes of Barack Obama's coming into his own as commander in chief. Obama has been helped immeasurably in this respect by his simultaneous emergence as the country's lawyer in chief. Never have those skills been so well displayed as during today's speech delivered at the National Archives in defense of his decision to close Guantanamo.
Obama's arguments today were methodical, rigorous, substantiated by facts and guided both by logic and principle. They stand in stark contrast to those of the one man who doesn't seem to realize the Bush administration is over, the modern equivalent of one of those Japanese soldiers wandering an atol in the Pacific long after the end of World War II, continuing to fight for ideas and goals that have long since been discredited and defeated. That would be, of course, Dick Cheney, who at best is merely shrill, bitter, and hysterical and at worst is the unrepentant architect of policies and programs that willfully violated and offended the spirit of the constitution of the United States. (More on this last point shortly.)
Obama may be the best lawyer to occupy the U.S. presidency since William Howard Taft went from the White House to being Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In fact, he is likely better than the affable and ginormous Taft and, who knows, may someday follow in the (deep) footsteps of the man who was also famous for having gotten stuck in the nation's First Bathtub. Standing in front of the documents that serve as the legal and moral foundations of American society, Obama offered a plain-spoken but powerful argument: Rather than "strategically applying our power and our principles, too often we set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And during this season of fear too many of us -- Democrats and Republicans, politicians, journalists, and citizens -- fell silent. In other words, we went off course."
He effectively made his case that due process and a respect for our system of law would do more to protect us than would the Bush approach which might be characterized, to paraphrase Clare Boothe Luce, as cutting the constitution to suit the fashions of the times. Laying out category after category of detainee and explaining how they should be treated consistent with both our national interests and the prevailing views of the U.S. judiciary, he described an approach so logical and consistent with American concepts of fairness, that it not only makes the fringe-dwelling Cheney sound out of touch, it makes the entire U.S. Senate (or the 90 who voted yesterday against appropriating funds to shut down Guantanamo) seem to be petty, political panderers. How ludicrous they seem fearing to locate terrorists from Guantanamo alongside the hundreds of terrorists already in America's network of impregnable Supermax and similar facilities. How responsible and constructive comments from Dianne Feinstein and Lindsay Graham have therefore been in noting the absurdity of the self-interested NIMBYism of their colleagues.
Cheney, who offered a set of counter-point remarks, was legally, morally, and intellectually out-gunned by the president. Nowhere was this clearer than in the description of his speech by an aide in which he described it as arguing ""our values are not abrogated by prioritizing security for innocents over rights for terrorists." It is a powerful statement that captures everything that is wrong with their view. It is precisely the idea that we can suspend the rights of suspected wrong-doers in order to "protect" the rest of society that undercuts our entire system of law. That system specifically enshrines rights for the worst of criminals to ensure that it is not fear nor political sentiment nor the view of any individual or even the majority that drives the legal process but that instead all of us are equal under the law.
Or as Cheney said during his speech, "There is never a good time to compromise when the lives and safety of the American people are in the balance." Exactly. It is precisely at such moments that our convictions and values are tested and we reveal the character of our leadership and our country.
Which gets us to the one thing that Obama asserted today that I questioned while hearing his remarks...in part because the rest of his statement was so compelling. He remarked that he did not want to dwell on rearguing the debates of the Bush years but would rather move forward to focus on the challenges of today. Fair enough. But, I wonder if he does not misread the historical significance of the missteps of the Bush era, particularly those associated with Guantanamo, torture, and Abu Ghraib. More than the bungling in Iraq, more even than the lies associated with getting into that war, it was these moral failures that damaged the United States and the Bush administration, did more damage by far than any the terrorists could inflict. In fact, what we did played directly into the plans of the terrorists themselves, casting us in a light that served their objectives.
Which is why I am starting to think that this is not like Watergate, a domestic political wound Gerald Ford was right to cauterize with his pardon. Domestic and international laws were broken by the last administration beginning with president and vice president's deliberate decision not to preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States. I am not for prosecuting lawyers who interpreted the law to meet the requirements of their bosses. But I do think that leaders in any nation need to be held accountable for any crimes they may have committed or ordered. If the United States does not choose to identify and prosecute even those in high positions who violate the law we set a dangerous precedent...regardless of whether or not the incidents in question are so distasteful we want to move past them.
Further, if we don't, I feel it's a pretty fair bet that sometime soon a prosecutor beyond our borders will seek to prosecute Bush or Cheney for what they did. (Compare their actions to others whose prosecutions we have supported...in terms of values, casualties, costs, laws broken.) It may not be an outcome Obama seeks...but it may be the one called for by the values and laws he so eloquently defended today.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
What a good week for the subcontinent. India's elections are breathtaking in scope and their re-election of the government of Manmohan Singh, one of the world's wisest and most qualified heads of government, is heartening. That he is only the second Indian leader since independence to be re-elected after serving a full term suggests an India that is entering a phase of stable growth that should be appealing to those investing in its future and comforting to those, like the United States, who are increasingly dependent on it as an ally. But the success of this democratic experiment at such scale also sends a powerful message to countries like China who have long argued that such a system cannot work in nations of such scope and complexity.
Also, as to China, the position of U.S. Ambassador to China may be the second most important in the State Department after the Secretary's job. It has taken the Obama administration a long time to make their selection for this vital post. Their choice, Jon Huntsman, is an excellent one. He has almost all the traits needed to be the first envoy to that country since the general acknowledgement that it is our partner in the G2, our first, most important counterpart in the community of nations. He has extensive regional experience (from service as a missionary in Taiwan to that as an Ambassador to Singapore). He has very high-level U.S. and state government experience which not only gives him familiarity with a wide range of issues but also sends a message to the Chinese that only someone of high stature would do for the post. He speaks Chinese. And while some might quibble that he is not particularly close to Clinton and Obama, this is a small issue.
I have met with him a couple of times, once having had the opportunity for a long dinner time conversation with him a number of years ago, and I was struck with his intelligence, accessibility and political gifts. That he is legitimately seen as a potential Republican presidential candidate also will help with the Chinese and sends a message too about Obama's confidence as a chief executive. It also is an interesting parallel with one of Huntsman's past benefactors, George H.W. Bush, whose resume of diverse senior posts and significant international experience as well as a reputation as a sound centrist are being mirrored by this rising star of the Bush's party. Wouldn't it be interesting if the antidote to George W. Bush was a completely different kind of Republican modeled on his father?
Aung San Suu Kyi deserves to be the center of a more concerted, more visible effort led by America and her allies to win freedom for the Burmese dissident. If Burma's neighbors choose to sidestep the issue, the rest of the world has an obligation to step up the heat on what is one of the world's most repulsive regimes.
PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images
Nothing like confronting up close what really bad allies look like to remind you of the virtues of your better ones. As NATO's leaders prepare to meet on Saturday to discuss Afghanistan, the news is full of stories reminding us of the yawning chasm that exists between the values of the society we are committing blood and treasure to assist and our own.
America's hand-picked man in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, put those differences in stark focus with his decision to sign a new law that legalizes rape within marriage and prohibits women from venturing outside the house without the permission of their husbands. The law, deeply objected to by human rights groups and, one can only suppose, anyone with a brain or a heart, was characterized by Senator Humaira Namati, quoted in a story in the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper, as "worse than during the Taliban."
Perhaps this development puts the administration's search for a moderate Taliban in perspective. If we can tolerate such behavior from our "friends" perhaps we will therefore now find it easier to tolerate in our enemies. What's more, the Taliban themselves seem to be in the midst of a vigorous PR campaign seeking to position themselves as the Afghanistani equivalent of MoveOn.org or Arianna Huffington (if she weren't a woman, and thus had fewer rights and less respect than a stray dog in the street.)
Speaking of which the attempt to present a new, warmier, cuddlier Taliban was recently described in the Huffington Post as follows:
The Taliban are now prepared to commit themselves to refraining from banning girls' education, beating up taxi drivers for listening to Bollywood music, or measuring the length of mens' beards, according to representatives of the Islamist movement. Burqas worn by women in public would be "strongly recommended" but not compulsory.
Of course, the effort to paint a smiley face on every rock used for their public stonings is just in its formative stages and is cast in a somewhat different light by the fact that the "mainstream" "democratic" Afghan government put in place by the United States has taken such a brutal, medieval stance toward half its populace.
It is therefore easy to see why Barack Obama's European tour seems to be such a lovefest even if the Europeans themselves are less-than-enthusiastically responding to U.S. requests for their active support in AfPakia. Today, when French President Sarkozy offered to take one U.S. prisoner from Guantanamo and send something like 150 gendarmes and a mobile charcuterie to Afghanistan, he was embraced by Obama as though he were the 21st Century Lafayette.
Indeed, reading the heart-rending stories about the Afghans and at the same time seeing the lengths that, for example, the French and in particular, Sarkozy have gone to on behalf of restoring the trans-Atlantic relationship, I regret poking fun at the French as allies a few weeks back. It was entertaining, but it is was a bit of a cheap laugh at the expense of an ally who was, after all, right about most of criticisms of Bush Administration policies.
Which brings us to an early challenge for the Obama Administration and for all of NATO. While much is made of their initiatives to reach out the Taliban and the merits of their new AfPak strategy, we need to stop and ask ourselves if we aren't overlooking a vitally important question: why does the mistreatment of male terrorists in Guantanamo outrage us more than the abuse of average women in Afghanistan? Which, in fact, is more odious to core American values?
Cheney argued America's national security interests justified our abrogation of international treaties and the U.S. constitution. Is it any different to argue that our national security interests should obligate us to continue to support a government that so disregards the fundamental rights of women?
Or shouldn't the Obama Administration and the West set a new standard and demand that international minimum human rights standards be upheld by our allies or we will no longer support them? This is truly an opportunity to draw a line between the moral failings of the last administration and this new one and one of the best ways to judge NATO going forward will be not simply in terms of its force levels in Afghanistan but in terms of what it is actually fighting for.
Update: Per this New York Times report, Hamid Karzai has announced he would now review the law referred to above. The Times story says that this was due to precisely the kind of pressure from the Western Alliance called for in this blog post. Therefore, you might think I should take full credit for it. I cannot do that of course. It is only right to let history decide. However, before making Karzai next year's National Organization for Women Man of the Year, it is worth noting that he did not exactly back away from the thrust of the law nor did he fully acknowledge what has made it so reprehensible to so many worldwide. The actions and statements, however, of the UN, the Canadians, the Italians and others including strong language from Barack Obama do deserve credit and we can only hope they maintain both their resolve and their vigilance on such issues in Afghanistan and worldwide.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
David Rothkopf is the CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy. His new book, "Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government and the Reckoning that Lies Ahead" is due out from Farrar, Straus & Giroux on March 1.